In January, 2011, Tim & I made the life-changing decision to eliminate processed foods from our lives. We weren't following any specific diet. We were actually searching (rather aimlessly, I must admit) for something different. Having tried various diets with mixed results. We wanted to change our eating habits, rather than follow another diet.
And we honestly believed we were eating fairly healthy. So all we needed were slight adjustments to reach that pinnacle of lifelong health. But for kicks, I decided to gather all of our "crap foods" to get an idea of what this dietary shift would involve. And the results shocked us 😲
I read every ingredient label on the packaged foods in our pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. If the labels listed any sugar, gluten, sodium, or anything long, unpronounceable and chemically sounding. I piled that food on the kitchen counter. And when I finished, the counter was jam-packed with "crap food" 😱😳😵
Wish I had taken a photo of that pile 'o crap 💩☠️💀 But didn't have the foresight. Anywho -- that pretty much decided it for us. I packed all of that crap (the shelf stable stuff, anyway) in large plastic bins and stored them in a closet. As we weren't sure how committed we were to the plan 😉
The next day I went to the grocery store. And for the first time ever -- I "shopped the perimeter" to fill my cart with produce and meat 🥗🥕🥒🍠🍅🍏🍊🥓🍗🍖 We didn't go low-carb -- because been there, done that -- knew it wouldn't work for us. But we did go gluten-free. So no wheat or its by-products. Didn't have a solid reason for doing that. Seemed like a good idea. Like I said -- we didn't have a specific diet in mind. Just trying to eliminate what we considered "processed". And back then, there was not a whole lot of research or resources to help us do this.
But what started out as a "winging it" approach ended up evolving into a Real Food ideology 💯🍽💚 So today -- here is what that kitchen counter looks like when I collect all of our processed foods:
This is just a small corner that is not piled high or overflowing. And yes -- there's a bag of sugar and flour there. Though both are partially used. So yes -- I'll bake a special sugary treat ☺️👩🏽🍳🎂🍮 for special occasions. Truth be told though, these special times grow rarer as we continue to progress on our Real Food journey.
4 Baby Steps Towards Real Food
So if you are interested in starting your Real Food journey, Here's a 4 - "Baby Steps" Plan to tack your way towards Real Food:
Step 1: Conduct what I now call a "food audit". An “audit” is a methodical, objective examination or review. And sounds a whole lot better than "gathering up all the crap food in your house", don't you think? 😉
This food audit may take time. But a worthwhile exercise to take stock, if you will. Because to move forward, you need to understand where you are now.
A food audit is also a great way to practice identifying Real Food vs. processed foods. Use the Real Food Guidelines to help you with this. With the goal of separating these foods.
- If you can, create "Real Food zones" vs. “processed zones” within your refrigerator, freezer, cupboards, pantry – everywhere you store food. Taking "before" photos 📸 will help with accountability 😉
- If you can’t create physical areas of separation, then use a labeling system (e.g., notes taped or written on the packages with “processed food” or “Do not Eat”) to easily identify what NOT to eat.
- If you share your home with friends or family who are not interested in a Real Food Lifestyle, designate separate areas for your food.
Step 2: Now, take a look at your zones and assess where you are with your balance of Real vs. processed. If you are like us, you'll be surprised at how much processed food you've been eating. We all probably tend to think more positively about our eating habits.
And don't forget that any meals you purchase at a restaurant or store, is more likely than not processed foods. Even salads, can be more processed than you think. Read my article on Restaurant Tips to learn more about how food may be prepared. Bottom line is that unless you make the food yourself -- from scratch. You really don't know what is in your meal.
What do you think? Time to make a change? If so -- please keep reading on. But if not -- no worries. Like I always say: Real Food is a journey, not a sprint. So proceed at your own pace. At the very least, I hope you keep reading this Blog. And keep considering. When you are ready -- I'll be here for you 🤗😘😍
Step 3: Decide which processed foods to ditch or keep. So while you're looking at this pile o' crap food, why not take an affirmative step towards Real Food about which crap to live with or without.
If you decide to live without that food item, then donate it (to a friend or organization) or toss it in the trash.
If undecided, pack it in a bin and set them aside somewhere safely out of reach. Maybe after a week or so, pull that bin out and reconsider whether you are ready to do without. And here's a hint, you've lived without this long.
Now if decide to keep it AND it's a food with added sugar or highly processed in some other way. Then figure out a plan for when you'll enjoy it. Maybe a special day in your life or a reward for a personal or work milestone/accomplishment, etc. Then write that plan on a post-it note, and stick it on the package This is a good way to create a healthy, happy space for treats AND keep you accountable.
Perimeter shopping for Real Food is a skill. So breaking old shopping habits like strolling down the interior aisles, resisting impulse buys on crap, etc. And getting used to "Reading Words (Ingredients Labels), NOT Numbers". This will all take time. But gets easier as you hone this skill.
And as you continue on this journey, you should see more Real Food than processed food in your kitchen. Which will be a visual marker of your success. So take photos 📸 to compare with your "before" pics. And always celebrate your progress 🙌🏽🙏🏽👊🏽💥